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Analyzing Pre-Game DOs and DON’Ts for Cowboys vs. Chargers



Jonathan Bales

Before the Cowboys’ third preseason game in San Diego, I published a list of DOs and DON’Ts for Dallas.  Let’s see how they performed:

DO keep tight ends in to help right tackle Robert Brewster in pass protection.

In my original post-game notes, I remarked that it seemed as though the Cowboys actually let Brewster out on an island at right tackle quite a bit.  I was wrong.

The Cowboys threw 11 passes with Brewster at right tackle, and tight end Jason Witten stayed in to block on five of them (45.5 percent).  In my study on why Witten should go out in a route more often in the future, I noted that he did so on 77.1 percent of pass plays in 2009.

Thus, as I suggested, Dallas did leave him in to block more often than usual.

Result: Pass

DON’T play Tony Romo for more than a few series OR use him on playaction when he’s in the game.

Romo did stay in the game for nearly the entire first half, but due to the Cowboys’ offensive woes, that ended up being just 17 plays (and four series).  Good job, Wade.

I suggested that Dallas not run any playaction passes with Romo in the game so that he would never have his back turned to the defense.  They ended up running just two playaction passes the entire game, and only one came with Romo at the helm.  That play involved a rather weak fake during which Romo never turned his head to the defense, so there was no added risk of injury.

Result: Pass

DO attempt a long field goal instead of punting.

The Cowboys never really got the chance to do this.  Buehler didn’t attempt a field goal all night.

Result: N/A

DON’T overdo it with rookies Sean Lee and Akwasi Owusu-Ansah.

I was surprised at the amount of reps the Cowboys gave to both rookies.  Now, Lee was forced into the game early due to a minor injury to Keith Brooking, but he stayed in until the end.  He did some great things and some poor ones, but the most important thing was that he looked, and stayed, healthy.

AOA got a lot of chances to return.  He looked a bit hesitant on kick returns and needs to secure the ball, but he flashed his skills on a 45-yard punt return that got called back.  As is usually the case with Dallas’ free safeties, he wasn’t “in” on a lot of plays–but he also didn’t yield any big ones either.

Result: Fail

DO give Alex Barron some time at both left and right tackle.

This may have been an option. . .had Barron played.  We will likely see him next weekend against Houston.

Result: N/A

DON’T feel pressured to (necessarily) run the ball in the red zone.

The Cowboys ran four plays in the red zone all night–three with Romo from the eight-yard line, and one with Kitna from the 19-yard line.

I’ve showed why passing the ball in the red zone can still be statistically superior to running the ball (when outside of the 10-yard line and on first down in particular).

Three of the Cowboys’ four red zone plays were passes, and all four were the right call, statistically, for the situation.  The Cowboys ran the ball (unsuccessfully) on 1st and Goal from the eight-yard line, then threw the ball twice following that (the third down play going for a touchdown).

The 1st and 10 play from the 19-yard line should have been a pass, and it was–a touchdown from Jon Kitna to Martellus Bennett.  I give Jason Garrett a lot of crap, but maybe he’s improving.

Result: Pass

DO give Phil Costa a lot of time at center.

Costa did get a bunch of reps at center and he made the most of his opportunity.  There were no muffed snaps and he did a solid job blocking.  In my opinion, he will secure a roster spot (probably at Travis Bright’s expense), barring a total meltdown.

Result: Pass

DON’T give center Andre Gurode a ton of playing time.

Gurode stayed in the game for the first half, but it was just 18 plays.

Result: Pass

DON’T allow Mat McBriar to do much directional punting.

It’s impossible to know whether it was intentional, but McBriar did boom some punts to give the Cowboys’ coverage unit some opportunities to make plays.  Overall, they covered them pretty well.

Result: Pass

DO give Jon Kitna more time with the first-team offense.

Kitna got some time with the first-teamers, but not exactly as much as I was hoping: one play (a strong side dive) before the end of the first half.

Result: Fail

DO run some dive plays behind Montrae Holland.

It looked like the Cowboys made a conscious effort to run behind Holland.  Of the seven first half runs by Dallas, Holland was at the point-of-attack on four of them.  The Cowboys gained only eight total yards on those plays, although Holland didn’t appear to do an awful job on his blocks.  He also performed well in pass protection.

Result: Pass

Conclusions

Seven ‘passes,’ two ‘fails,’ and two ‘N/As.’  Overall, the Cowboys did a solid job of using this game to accomplish the task which I believe to be the most important in the preseason: analyze your unknown commodities.

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DOs and DON’Ts for Cowboys vs. San Diego Chargers

Jonathan Bales

Note: Be sure to tune into my live in-game blog tonight, starting at 8 p.m. Central.

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Even though tonight’s game “doesn’t count,” there are still a lot of things both coaches and fans would like to see from the players.  A variety of training camp battles have yet to reach a conclusion, two high-drafted rookies will be making their pro debuts, and a handful of injuries will force perennial backups into the starting lineup.

Here is what Dallas should and should not do tonight versus the Chargers:

DO keep tight ends in to help right tackle Robert Brewster in pass protection.

This is a big one.  There’s been some chatter about possibly sitting Tony Romo with his starting left guard and right tackle out for the rest of the preseason.  That won’t happen.

Since Romo will be playing, extra precautions need to be taken.  Although my stat analysis has shown that the Cowboys should generally send tight end Jason Witten into a route more often, tonight he should stay in to help Brewster in pass protection.

An interesting thing to watch tonight will be the percentage of formations that are “right-handed,” i.e. I-Right, Strong Right, Tight End Spread Right, etc.  An abundance of these would show the Cowboys are intent on aiding Brewster on the outside.

DON’T play Tony Romo for more than a few series OR use him on playaction when he’s in the game.

I personally think Romo shouldn’t even play tonight.  He is a veteran quarterback and, in my opinion, the huge potential risk isn’t worth the minimal reward.  If he is in, I’d love to see him out of the game by the third series.

That probably won’t happen, though, so it will be important for the Cowboys to give him maximum protection.  In addition to leaving Witten in to block, the Cowboys shouldn’t use much (if any) playaction.  On these plays, Romo’s back would be turned to the defense and he could potentially be in a position where he’s unable to defend himself.

DO attempt a long field goal instead of punting.

Let’s see Buehler attempt a 50+ yard field goal.  Or how about 60+?  It’s preseason–give the guy a shot Wade.

DON’T overdo it with rookies Sean Lee and Akwasi Owusu-Ansah.

No one is more excited to see Lee and ‘Kwasi play more than me.  Having said that, the Cowboys need to scale back the reps of both players.  Both are coming off of injuries and haven’t been involved in live game action in seven months or so.  Even though they are backups and both fighting for roles on the team, I wouldn’t give either guy more than 20 plays, with ‘Kwasi receiving a few opportunities to return.

DO give Alex Barron some time at both left and right tackle.

Barron may or may not play tonight, but if he does, I’d love to see him at right tackle.  Owner Jerry Jones has said he will probably stay on the left side, but why?  What if right tackle Marc Colombo has a setback?  Do we really want Brewster as the starting right tackle for Dallas on opening day?

It’s possible the club would move Doug Free back to right tackle and let Barron protect Romo’s blind side, but there’s only one way to find out if Barron is capable of playing on the right side. . .

DON’T feel pressured to (necessarily) run the ball in the red zone.

Fans have been critical of Jason Garrett’s red zone playcalling, but I haven’t had much of an issue with it thus far this preseason (last year is a different story).  He did pass the ball three straight times inside the five-yard line against Cincinnati, but one of those was a designed run that Romo checked out of.

Others have disapproved of his decision to call first down pass plays, particularly out of Shotgun, against the Raiders.  However, I’ve showed that passing is actually a superior first down strategy to running when anywhere on the field outside of the opponent’s 10-yard line.  Whether that play comes out of Shotgun, to me, is irrelevant.

DO give Phil Costa a lot of time at center.

With Kyle Kosier out until at least Week Three, Costa is now the Cowboys’ backup center.  If anything happens to starter Andre Gurode, this guy needs to be prepared.

DON’T give center Andre Gurode a ton of playing time.

Let’s hope the Cowboys don’t need to rely on Costa at any point this season.  The best way to do that?  Make sure Gurode doesn’t get injured.  Missing a few reps is worth the guarantee that he stays healthy.

Gurode is veteran who will be ready for the season and, outside of Romo, perhaps the last guy Dallas can afford get injured.  Do we really want to see an opening day starting offensive line containing Montrae Holland, Phil Costa, and Robert Brewster?  Let me answer that for you:  Heeeeellllllll no.

DON’T allow Mat McBriar to do much directional punting.

We all know McBriar is one of the best punters in the league.  His power, accuracy, and consistency are insane.  Instead of watching McBriar punt the ball near the sideline where it could go out of bounds, let him boom it 60 yards downfield so we can observe the Cowboys’ coverage units.  They improved against the Raiders after a shaky performance in the Hall of Fame game, but with a bunch of new players figuring to get time on special teams, they need more practice.

DO give Jon Kitna more time with the first-team offense.

Suppose Romo goes down mid-season with a 4-6 week injury.  To have any shot at making the playoffs, the Cowboys will need to be able to win at least a few of those games.  I like Kitna as a backup, but he needs more reps than he’s getting.  Some of those should come with the first team in an effort to build some sort of cohesiveness.

DO run some dive plays behind Montrae Holland.

Holland actually isn’t that much of a downgrade from Kosier.  He figures to be the Cowboys’ starting left guard for at least the first two weeks of the season, so let’s see what he’s made of.  I’d love to see the Cowboys run a bunch of dive plays in the “1 hole” (right up Holland’s butt).  Hopefully he’ll give us a reason to only be worried about one starter on the offensive line.

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